Tribute to Prince



My first encounter with Prince happened back in 1983, when I was in the tenth grade, pulling an all-nighter writing a paper on the economic state of Brazil. Being informed that coffee was the country’s primary national export required more than me just drinking it past the midnight hour—it also required me listening nonstop to the radio.

In Toronto, the biggest pop station was Chum FM and that night, it kept me going, in particular a little ditty called “Little Red Corvette.” I had never heard the song before that night, but between the hours of midnight and 7am, it played 28 times (yes, I counted). So the next weekend I dedicated myself to researching this Prince character. In those pre-internet, pre-iPhones days, research meant going to my local record store and thumbing through the bins to find that artist – filed under P, for Prince, ( he wasn’t yet in the A’s, for Artist Formerly Known as Prince)

I remember picking up a copy of 1999 in 1983 and looking at the purple cartoon-ish cover. I poured over every magazine article I could find on him, watched every one of his videos and listened his songs religiously.

I was quickly obsessed— the man had style.


Seeing a petite man in ruffles, brocade and lace wasn’t what struck for me—it was, after all,the era of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Boy George and I had just gone through my own New Romantics phase (Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran) so I knew my way around a ruffle and a rhinestone—there was something magnetically special about this little guy.

He approached fashion in a way I’ve never seen before, mixing the feminine with the masculine in an unprecedented way, in an eye patch or a crystal embellishment, or a speedo paired with a choker and eyeliner. Then there were his signature bandanas, often worn with catsuits, bell bottoms or crop tops and cut out leggings. Even when he was butt naked, with his tiny, lithe waist, there was a stylish flair to the way he wore his birthday suit.

But I think what fascinated me the most was his own fascination – and appropriation – of women’s shoes. Prince made high heels, and later, the Cuban heels, his sneaker. It was the shoe he was most comfortable in, the shoe he lived in, the shoe that defined him. There was something regal (naturally) about the way Prince wore his heels. It was more Jimi Hendrix meets Louis XIV than RuPaul. In an interview, Prince explained that “People say I’m wearing heels because I’m short. I wear heels because the women like ‘em.” And he was right. In his heels, he was a lady killer, luring the likes of Apollonia, Vanity, Sheila E. and his ex-wife Mayte. He not only dated them, he helped craft their style and public images.

The mystery and allure of Prince’s style has never escaped me. When a friend of mine moved to Minneapolis to work for Target, I’d occasionally ask him if he ever got invited to Paisley Park (he never did), because in my mind that was the brain center of all that is Prince. It was his recording studio, his home, but most importantly, it’s where he kept his famous wardrobe. Legend had it that there was an army of designers and seamstresses (10 to be exact) who worked around the clock making Prince’s wardrobe and that there were vaults of the world’s most luxurious heels which were locked up nightly. Allegedly, he would sometimes borrow or share shoes with Mayte too though they didn’t wear the same size (Prince supposedly wears a women’s size 6).  I have no idea if any of that is true, but I do know this: Four decades later, Prince continues to dazzle and delight with his sartorial confections and for those moments when I feel just a little bit less inspired, I will play a Prince song and with that first twang of his guitar, everything seems to be more colorful (purple, red, raspberry!) again.


Elliot Sailors

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Elliott Sailors and her husband were posing at NYC’s Antoine Verglas Studio on Monday for a photo shoot while wearing practically identical outfits: baggy blue jeans, dark knit sweaters, and loose tees. After changing back into her own clothes, the womenswear-turned-menswear model reappeared in a flannel shirt, combat boots, and her signature necklace with the Sanskrit word for fearlessness etched into it.

After adopting an androgynous crew cut last year, Sailors made headlines and earned a spot on the Today Show for her gender bending modeling work. Despite the press attention, she is adamant that it’s all more than just a career stunt. It’s a lifestyle change, too.

We chatted with Sailors about nontraditional gender roles, Andrej Pejić, and her main man.

What was running through your head as you were getting your hair cut?

When we were on our way, I was totally excited and not nervous at all. It was as we actually approached the door that suddenly I realized that my heart was racing. When I got to the desk, I noticed that there were actually tears in my eyes. I explained to the barber that I wanted a haircut and he was a little confused at first, because it’s not a hair salon it’s a barbershop. Thorin Decatur, of Decatur and Sons, is my barber and he’s actually my husband’s barber, too. So, I told Thorin, “I might cry but don’t even worry about it. I totally want to do this.” Even once I sat there, a few tears fell. I just took a deep breath and I was good to go. When he showed me my hair, when it fell, I actually just laughed.

Now that you’ve experienced two aspects of the modeling industry, what would you say are some differences between womenswear and menswear modeling?

One of my favorite things, actually, about working in menswear is that people are much more direct about what they want. As a female, people would try to be a little bit more careful [with what they said to me]. They didn’t want to step on toes. That’s not true of everybody, obviously, but it was that way often. They would just find a nice way of saying, “Oh, maybe you could try to do it this way…” As a guy, they’ll just be like, “Dude, stand up straight. C’mon.” I appreciate the directness and thank them for being so direct. I also tell them it might be helpful to do that with the girls, too. It works.

What certain mannerisms do you need to channel to give a more masculine gender performance on shoots?

I don’t know so much that I took them on now. It’s sort of just more me. Not sort of…is [more me]. When I first started working as a female model, that’s when I had to learn how to be girly and more feminine. That was a little harder for me to take on. Whereas now, I just get to relax into being me. I actually don’t think about it as much. There’s a little unlearning that happened, so that obviously takes some thought.

Were you at all influenced by models who are very androgynous, like Andrej Pejić?

Completely. In fact, I’ve really been giving it more thought, and it was actually in Paris in 2003 that I first saw Omahyra Mota. That was when I gained my appreciation of androgyny. It was also in 2011 that I became familiar with Andrej Pejić and what he does. I think it’s beautiful. It was actually after seeing him that I did my first shoot as a guy, but with my long blonde hair. I tried it first with my long hair, and it didn’t work. People just still saw me as too feminine. It was the last weekend of September in 2012 when I did The Landmark Forum, which is a personal training and development program. It was in that seminar where I got really connected to how I want live in this world. Not just for me and inside of my career, but I really want it to be about self-expression and being who you are—all of who you are. It’s really not just for me but an encouragement for people to be true to themselves and embrace all their sides.

Gender theorist Judith Butler famously said, “Gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original.” What might be your own personal philosophy on gender?

At least for me, I think I was raised into a society where I was told that certain things are for boys and certain things are for girls. Early on, I was being told that when you go to church you need to wear a dress. But it wasn’t something that I really fought against. Other than at church, I just never really wore dresses. It was through learning more about it that I came to realize that how I describe myself is more in alignment with what the society I live in calls “boy.” As far as my body, I never felt like I was born in the wrong body, that’s just not something that I’ve dealt with. I definitely have an appreciation for people who do deal with that. It’s really important that every single human being does what is authentic to them. I’m in complete favor of anyone doing what has them feel comfortable.

What was your husband’s reaction to you wanting to get into menswear modeling?

When I first was explaining it he was like, “Wait, what?” Since then, I’ve also learned a little bit better how to describe it. I don’t plan on becoming a male model. I want to be a menswear model. I’m still a female and am planning to stay that way. There wasn’t anything either of us saw that would alter our relationship. This plaid shirt that I’m wearing, I owned before I even ever cut my hair. What neither of us did expect, though, is how differently people act towards him. Sometimes people just see us as a gay couple, which doesn’t bother us, except when people are unkind about it. It’s not so much that it bothers us on our behalf, but on behalf of people that have to deal with that all of the time. Even when people do know that I’m a woman, they think that if he’s with a woman like me, then he must be gay and hiding it. People have all these wild opinions.

Have you experienced these comments on the street or on social media?

It’s actually only on the street! The first time it happened was in the West Village in NYC. Can you believe that? It happened three times in one night. It was so shocking to us that this is still the world that we live in, especially in New York City. We think of it as this really accepting place. It’s not okay to talk to people that way. For some people it’s more of the nontraditional gender role that bothers them, versus the sexuality.

At what stage of your life did you feel most beautiful and comfortable in your own skin?

Today. [Laughs] Every day I really take on being authentic and looking at what it is to be true to who I am. It isn’t the same everyday. There are times where I will wear a dress and heels and will want to dress that way. That’s authentic to who I am in that moment. It really makes sense for people to feel comfortable and express themselves however they want, all the time. It doesn’t always have to look the same.

Men in Heels


Today I found out men wore high heel shoes long before women.

The first high heel wearers are believed to have been Persian horseback warriors sometime around the ninth century. The extended heel was reportedly developed specifically for riding, to keep the rider’s foot from slipping out of the stirrups. It also helped to hold the rider steady when standing up in the stirrups and shooting arrows.

A group of Persian diplomats visited Europe in 1599 to recruit allies to help Persia defeat the Ottoman Empire. A craze for Persian culture developed as a result and Persian-style high heeled shoes were adopted enthusiastically by Western European aristocrats.

The shoes became a status symbol and the heels were extended to make the men look even taller. (This is thought by many etymologists to be where the term “well heeled”, meaning “wealthy” originally came from.)

Just as the 1980s had notorious shoe collector Imelda Marcos, the 1600s had a rabid shoe collector and trend setter in Louis XIV of France. While he was a powerful leader, his height left something to be desired at five feet, four inches tall (1.62 m), which was slightly below average in his day. (The average height for men in France at the time, in modern international units, was 5 ft. 5 inches or 1.65 m.  Note: Contrary to popular belief, Napoleon was not short; he was two inches taller than the average in his day.)

A king being slightly shorter than average wasn’t ideal for his ego, so Louis took measures to make himself look taller, sporting four inch heels, often decorated with elaborate battle scenes. Eventually, he switched to having red heels on all his shoes and decreed that only the upper echelons of society could have matching red heels. It became a simple matter of looking at the color of a man’s heels to see if he was in the king’s inner circle.

Not to be outdone, women of the 1600s started wearing heels as a way of showing their equality. Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto and author of Heights of Fashion, a History of the Elevated Shoe, says the rage of that period in parts of Europe was for women to dress and act like a man. (It should be noted, though, that at the time men’s outfits by today’s standards were extremely effeminate)


You had women cutting their hair, adding epaulettes to their outfits. They would smoke pipes, they would wear hats that were very masculine. And this is why women adopted the heel — it was in an effort to masculinise their outfits.

As usually happens, high fashion is adapted into more affordable versions and filters down to the less fortunate.  The lower classes started to wear high heels. The elite responded by making their heels increasingly higher to maintain the distinction of being upper class- the higher the heel, the more expensive the shoe typically was. They also began to differentiate heels into two kinds- fat heels for men and skinny for women.

Eventually, men got away from the heel almost completely to show their distinction from women. Since the late 18th century, men’s shoes have had primarily low heels, except for cowboy boots and some shoes worn by rock stars, who occasionally have a propensity to wear effeminate garb similar to before the “Great Male Renunciation”, when men switched from wearing jewelry and elaborate outfits with highly decorated cloth to drab, darker colored simple clothing. Basically, when Western men on the whole stopped trying to beautify themselves, starting at the tail end of the 18th century.

For a time, women also drifted away from the heel as it truly wasn’t practical, particularly on old muddy or cobblestone style streets where heels were nearly impossible to walk in. They weren’t gone long, though. The heel came back into fashion in the mid-19th century with the advent of photography.  Why? As seems to happen often when new technologies are introduced, pornographers are always among the first to take advantage and they were among the first to embrace photography. This pertains to high heels in that they often dressed models for risqué post cards and other photographs in nothing but a “modern” (for that time) version of the high heel.

Since then, high heels have come in and out of fashion repeatedly, except for in the porn trade, where they’re seemingly a constant. Lower heels were preferred during the late 1960s and early 70s. In the 1980s and 90s, high heels made a popular comeback. Various styles of heels have taken their turn on the runways as well, such as the block heel of the 70s, the mule and the famous stiletto that’s been popular in the 50s, 80s, and today.